Cadet Major Ashley Balla, right, leads Junior ROTC drill team members, from left, Christina Yeakle, Mariah Coleman, Mackenzie Shiple, Issa Amad, and Devonte Fountain, in a drill at Springfield High School in Holland. The team has been chosen to participate in a national competition in Louisville.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY
While most of their schoolmates are eating breakfast or trying to steal a last few winks of sleep each morning, the Springfield High School Army Junior ROTC drill team is up and at ’em at 6:30 a.m. honing its routines.
And for the second straight year, the drill team has been chosen to participate in the Army Cadet Command JROTC Drill Championships, to be held April 6 in Louisville. Springfield placed eighth in the nation last year in exhibition drill, and will send 22 marchers to this year's competition.
The drill team was one of seven chosen for the “Army Nationals” among 217 such teams in a region encompassing Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee.
“It’s such a great honor to know we were selected from the schools in our Seventh Brigade division,” said Michael Pietrowski, a junior from Holland.
“It made me feel proud. There is no other sport quite like it, performing in front of thousands and thousands that do the same thing you do,” said Ashley Balla, a junior from Toledo.
Springfield’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, founded in 1984, is the only one of its kind in northwest Ohio; it is among 22 statewide and about 1,700 across the country.
It’s an elective alternative to regular gym class, typically enrolling about 135 cadets each year — there are 127 now — from the freshman through senior years. Its curriculum includes skills in leadership, survival, personality and character development, community service, citizenship, teamwork, self-discipline, study skills, and respect to the American flag.
Drill team is an activity for which, like traditional athletics, participants may receive varsity letters.
“There’s a big difference from other sports: We only have nine minutes to compete,” said Brittany Goodman, a senior from Maumee whose brother also competed on drill team and is now an ROTC cadet at Ohio State University. “We have to leave a lasting impression.”
Azaree Whitehead, the Springfield Junior ROTC’s battalion commander, said the drill team is a source of pride and unity for the entire group, not just its participants.
“It’s inspiring for us to see how far their hard work pays off,” she said. “We can see how much the freshmen have grown just in their first year, and the seniors over the years.”
Top finishers from the individual services’ competitions go to the All-Services Nationals, held in Daytona Beach, Fla., in early May.
Cadets credit their JROTC instructors, Col. Jim Coomler and Sgt. Rickey Thomas — both retired Army soldiers now employed by the Springfield schools — for guiding their success.
But while Junior ROTC is sponsored and sanctioned by the Army and other branches, cadets are not in the military, are not taught military skills, and have no obligation to continue in military service after high school. Some do, of course; about half of Springfield’s drill-team members raised their hands when asked if they planned to enlist after graduation or enroll in an ROTC program in college.
Miss Whitehead is among those not planning to enter the military, but she cherishes the benefits Junior ROTC has provided for her.
“It provides me with a lot of leadership opportunities, and community service,” she said. “I’ve been chosen for four different leadership seminars, and I strongly believe it’s because of this program.”
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